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 The Principles of Theology - Article 11

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Introduction

Part 1. The Meaning of Justification

Justification may be viewed from God’s standpoint or from ours. In the former case it means the Divine act and gift; in the latter the human reception and result.

1. Justification is connected with our true relation to God. The Article shows this by defining it as our being “accounted righteous before God.” Justification before men is only possible through good works, to be dealt with in Article 12. So that in the primary sense Justification is not concerned with our spiritual condition, but with our spiritual relation, not with actual state, but with judicial position. It is important to keep this in mind if confusion and difficulty are to be avoided.

2. This true relation was lost by sin. Sin, as we have seen, is rebellion against God’s will and disobedience to His law, and as regards our true relation to God there are three results of sin: (a) guilt; (b) condemnation; (c) separation. We see all these in the Garden of Eden as the direct and immediate result of sin in connection with man’s proper relation to God.

3. Justification is the restoration of this true relation to God. It includes (a) the removal of condemnation by the gift of forgiveness; (b) the removal of guilt by the reckoning (or imputation) of righteousness; (c) the removal of separation by the restoration to fellowship. [1] Justification thus means to treat as just, or righteous, to account righteous, to regard as righteous, to declare righteous, to pronounce righteous in the eyes of the law (Psa. 51:4; Prov. 17:15; Ezek. 16:51, 52; Matt. 11:19; 12:37; Luke 7:35). [2]

4. Justification is, therefore, much more than pardon, and the two are clearly distinguished by St. Paul (Acts 13:38, 39). A criminal is pardoned, but is not regarded as righteous. But Justification is that act of God whereby He accepts and accounts us righteous, though in ourselves unrighteous. The Christian is not merely a pardoned criminal, but a righteous man. Forgiveness is an act and a succession of acts; Justification is an act issuing in an attitude. Forgiveness is repeated throughout the life; Justification is complete and never repeated. It relates to our spiritual position in the sight of God and covers the whole of our life, past, present, and future. [3] Forgiveness is only negative, the removal of condemnation; Justification is also positive, the removal of guilt and the bestowal of a perfect standing before God. In a word, Justification means reinstatement. Forgiveness is being stripped; Justification is being clothed. Day by day we approach God for forgiveness and grace on the footing of the relation of Justification that lasts throughout our life. In relation to the justified man, the believer, God is “faithful and righteous to forgive.” Thus, Justification is the ground of our assurance, the reason why we know is because of what Christ has done for us and is to us.

5. Justification is also different from “making righteous,” which is the usual interpretation of Sanctification. The two are inseparable in fact, but they are distinguishable in thought, and must be kept quite clear if we desire peace and blessing. Justification concerns our standing; Sanctification our state. The former affects our position; the latter our condition. The first deals with relationship; the second with fellowship. And even though they are bestowed together we must never confuse them. The one is the foundation of peace, “Christ for us”; the other is the foundation of purity, “Christ in us.” The one deals with acceptance; the other with attainment. Sanctification admits of degrees, we may be more or less sanctified; Justification has no degrees, but is complete, perfect, and eternal. “Justified from all things.” Our Lord indicated this distinction (John 13:10) when He said, “He that has been bathed (Justification) needeth not, save to wash his feet (Sanctification).” [4]


Roman Catholic Doctrine

At this point it is necessary to consider the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification, more particularly as, owing to other prominent differences between us and Rome, it is apt to be overlooked that there is a fundamental difference between the two Churches on this subject as well. A brief reference to what happened at the Council of Trent will enable us to understand this difference. Dr. Lindsay describes the statement put forth at that Council as “a masterpiece of theological dexterity.” This was doubtless due to the fact that there was not a little Evangelical doctrine in the Roman Church which had to be considered, and so much was this the case that at one time it had been thought possible to win over the Protestants. But that time, if it ever existed, had gone by, and the discussion in the Council revealed fundamental lines of difference. A small minority was ready to accept the Lutheran view of Justification by Faith alone, but the majority easily won the day on behalf of a view which was almost the exact opposite of the Lutheran doctrine. The definition adopted by the Council extends to sixteen chapters, and, as Lindsay says, “Almost every page includes grave ambiguities.” At first there seems to be an agreement with Evangelical doctrine, but then a change commences, and “while some sentences seem to maintain the Evangelical ideas previously stated, room is distinctly made for Pelagian work-righteousness.” The result was that Justification was no longer regarded as a change of position, but as the actual conversion of a sinner into a righteous man. Lindsay thus concludes:

“It is scarcely necessary to pursue the definitions further. It is sufficient to say that the theologians of Trent do not seem to have the faintest idea of what the Reformers meant by faith, and never appear to see that there is such a thing as religious experience. … The result was that the Pope obtained what he wanted, a definition which made reconciliation with the Protestants impossible.” [5]

For our present purpose we may quote one of the Canons of the Council, which teaches that “Justification consists not in the mere remission of sins, but in the sanctification and renewal of the inner man by the voluntary reception of God’s grace and gifts.”

The fact is that Rome teaches Forgiveness through Sanctification, while Scripture teaches Sanctification through Forgiveness. Rome confuses Justification and Sanctification, and says that the former is by the infusion of grace and includes both remission and renovation. But this is really to rob the soul of the objective ground of righteousness and confuses spiritual acceptance with spiritual attainments. Not only so, it tends to base Justification on our own merit. Justification in the Scriptural sense is independent of and anterior to the spiritual state or condition, which, however, necessarily follows. [6] It must, therefore, be evident that between the doctrine of Justification as taught in our Article and that inculcated by Rome, there is “a great gulf fixed,” as indeed, our great theologian Hooker clearly teaches.

“Wherein, then, do we disagree? We disagree about the nature of the very essence of the medicine whereby Christ cureth our disease; about the manner of applying it; about the number and the power of means which God requireth in us for the effectual applying thereof to our soul’s comfort. … This is the mystery of the Man of sin. This maze the Church of Rome doth cause her followers to tread when they ask her the way of justification.” [7]

It is of vital importance to keep clear this distinction between the doctrine of the two Churches because there is so much confusion today in regard to the basis and ground of our acceptance with God. Thus, a well-known preacher [8] published a volume of sermons entitled The Life of Justification, but it is only possible to accept this expression with careful qualifications and safeguards; a more Scriptural idea would be “The Life of the Justified,” or “The Life of Sanctification,” since Justification is an act, not a process, and, as already pointed out, covers the whole of the Christian life from beginning to end. The confusion between the Anglican and Roman doctrines of Justification may perhaps be said to date from the time of the Tractarian Movement, when Newman’s sermons took up a position scarcely recognisable from that of the Church of Rome. [9]


>> Part 2. The Foundation Of Justification




[1] It is at least a coincidence that St. Paul’s three questions at the close of his great chapter in Romans deal with these three results of sin as seen in the story of the Fall: (a) “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect” (verse 33)? No guilt. (b) “Who is he that condemneth” (verse 34)? No condemnation. (c) “Who shall separate us” (verse 35)? No separation.
[2] It is often pointed out that Greek verbs in οω, are factitive if physical, like τυϕλόω, to make blind, but are not factitive if moral, as ἀξιόω, to account worthy. Plummer, Luke, p. 208; Sanday and Headlam, Romans, pp. 28-31; Speakers’ Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:6.
“It is now generally acknowledged that the interpretation of this term, which was given by the mediævalists in the Reformation controversy, and which, though finding no support in the Anglican Articles and rejected by representative Anglican divines like Richard Hooker has been revived by certain modern English theologians, as for instance Dr. Liddon, is inconsistent with Greek usage. The verb δικαιόω means ‘to account righteous’; and no ingenuity will enable us to modify this interpretation. It does not mean ‘to make righteous,’ and all attempts to confuse it with sanctification must therefore be abandoned” (Simpson, Fact and Faith, p. 76).
See also Article “Justified,” Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.
[3] “The proportions of the Pauline theology abundantly prove that justification is no mere preliminary act in the progression ‘justified, sanctified, glorified,’ but that it covers the whole career of the Christian as the essential condition” (Simpson, ut supra, p. 85).
[4] “The two are not the same, and they do not run into each other. When a bone is broken, it must be set before the process of healing can begin, and the setting is in order that the fragments may knit together and unite; but the setting and the healing are wholly distinct. Justification is the setting of the broken bone; it brings the soul into its true relation to God; it has sanctification for its object. Sanctification is the healing, a process wholly different and wholly distinct. Justification is God’s work; sanctification is the united work of God and man” (Stearns, Present Day Theology, p. 474).
[5] Lindsay, History of the Reformation, Vol. 2, p. 580. See also pp. 576-580.
[6] “Protestants claim that justification is complete from the first. The father of the parable does not leave his prodigal son outside the house until he has shown his repentance by his works; but he goes forth to meet him, and falls upon his neck and kisses him, and has the best robe put on him, and a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet, and kills for him the fatted calf. The sinner is not taken back into the Divine favour by degrees, cautiously and grudgingly, but he is restored to all his privileges as a child of God. This is the only way to make the work of sanctification, which immediately begins, complete. It is a work which can go forward only after the relation of fatherhood and sonship is fully re-established. It is only by such love that the sinner’s love can be made perfect. ‘We love Him because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19),” (Stearns, ut supra, p. 447).
[7] Hooker, Sermon 2, 5.
[8] Canon Body.
[9] “In a most characteristic passage Cardinal Newman admits that δικαιόω means only to declare righteous, but adds that the divine declaration is creative. ‘It is not like some idle sound, or a vague rumour coming at random and tending no whither; but it is “the word which goeth forth out of his mouth”; it has a sacramental power, being the instrument as well as the sign of his will. It never can “return unto him void, but it accomplishes that which he pleases, and prospers in the thing whereto he sends it.” Imputed righteousness is the coming in of actual righteousness. They whom God’s sovereign voice pronounces just, forthwith become in their measure just.’ How like Newman all this sounds; So original, so uplifting, and yet so empty of reality and so distant from Saint Paul! Through Newman’s discussion one can seldom catch even the faintest and most flashing glimpse of the Apostle” (O. A. Curtis, The Christian Faith, p. 362).
For a fuller treatment of various truths connected with Justification, see Paterson, The Rule of Faith, Index, s.v. Justification; Wace, The Principles of the Reformation, pp. 50-64.






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Article 11

>> Introduction

>> The meaning of Justification

>> The foundation of Justification

>> The Means of Justification


Content of The Principles

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>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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